Developing New Methods for Recoloring Faded Taxidermy
In previous blog posts we described our condition and inventory survey of mammalian taxidermy. In completing that survey, we created this working glossary of terms to ensure that each conservator who participated in the survey shared a common understanding of terminology for taxidermy materials and techniques. We share the glossary below for others who may need to describe taxidermy in the context of its conservation.
If you have experience working with taxidermy and you use terms differently or use different terms altogether, leave them in a comment so we can add to our glossary!
Mount – the taxidermy animal; the preserved skin of an animal that is secured/mounted over an internal form (manikin) and arranged in a life-like pose.
The skin is typically secured via stitching, although nails and tacks have been used (and staples), or a combination of stitching and nails. [Note that study skins and mummies are not technically taxidermy.]
Shoulder Mount – the head and neck of the animal, the body has been mounted at the shoulder of the animal (see image of moose at the end of the post).
Trophy Mount – a shoulder mount, usually of a game animal.
Full Body Mount – full body of the animal is articulated in a life-like pose.
Manikin – the internal form of the animal that the preserved hide is attached to. Note the spelling: “manikin” or “mannikin” is used when referring to anatomically correct forms, like research manikins used for CPR training. The “mannequin” spelling refers to fashion and other non-anatomically correct forms.
Stuffed animal – specimen produced using a method common in the 19th century and earlier in which the preserved animal skin was sewn and stuffed until full. This technique did not produce realistic-looking specimens. Once better techniques were developed (such as binding and the dermoplastic method), specimens were no longer stuffed in this manner. Today, museum-quality taxidermy is referred to as mounted, not stuffed (see “mount” above).
Binding method – technique in which wood wool or other loose materials are wrapped with string or thread to bind them in place and form musculature around an internal armature/frame to create the manikin for the specimen.
Dermoplastic method – developed by German ornithologist and taxidermist Phillip Leopold Martin (1850-1885) in Stuttgart and adapted by American taxidermist Carl Akeley, who began working at the American Museum of Natural History in 1909. A technique developed for creating highly detailed, anatomically accurate manikin. The German method is based on a highly detailed sculpted form onto which the skin, (tanned tawed, or even raw) would be placed. Akeley’s method is based on the preparation of a mold, taken from the sculpted animal. The light-weight manikin is cast inside the mold using papier–mâché or reinforced plaster (or a number of other materials). [For more explanation, see “Care and Conservation of Natural History Collections.”]
Polyurethane foam – material used to make contemporary mass-produced manikins in common use today by commercial taxidermists. Polyurethane foam manikin are used with varying degrees of custom modification to suit the specific needs of a particular mount. Commercial taxidermists also use dense polyurethane for reproduction skulls/beaks.
Internal armature – sturdy wood, wire, and/or metal frame that provides internal structural support and defines the position of the mount, especially the limbs. The internal armature extends through hands and feet to attach the specimen to the display base (see x-radiograph below).
Wood wool/Excelsior – thin slivers of wood (wood shavings) may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin
Straw – thick vegetal material may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin
Cotton batting – cotton fibers may be used as stuffing or padding inside the animal, forming part of all of the internal manikin.
Papier-mâché – technique using strips of paper (and/or textile) built up in layers with adhesive to create a manikin
Plaster – gypsum or plaster of Paris may be used to form part or all of the manikin/specimen.
Shellac – natural resin that may be used to seal papier-mâché or plaster manikins to provide strength and prevent water damage.
Wax/pigmented wax – transparent or pigmented wax may be used to recreate areas of supple hairless skin on the nose, lips, and around the eyes. In these areas, the original skin dries out and shrinks once the animal is preserved, losing its natural appearance.
Paint – oil or acrylic (or other) paint may be applied to compensate for the loss of color that occurs once the animal dies, especially to hairless skin (ex, beaks/legs/feet/waddle of birds, faces of primates, etc.).
Earliner – rigid material that is inserted between the layers of skin in the ears of many animals for support. Today they are commonly made out of plastic, although historically lead and papier–mâché were also used.
Jawset – recreation of top and bottom of jaw, including teeth and tongue. Jaw sets manufactured today are commonly made out of plastic.
Mouthcup/mouthpiece – recreation of the mouth, including surrounding flesh (cheeks and lips). Mouthcups manufactured today are commonly made out of plastic.
Eyes – eyes were traditionally made out of glass, but many of those manufactured today they are made of plastic.
Teeth – often the original skull and teeth were cleaned and used in historic taxidermy mounts; however, because teeth are prone to cracking and breaking, many contemporary mounts use plastic jawsets.
Antlers and horns – usually the originals from the animal are used in taxidermy mounts, although there may be fills, paints, or varnish added by the taxidermist.
Base – an external supportive structure that a specimen is attached to make it stable for display. The base could be a flat piece of wood, a branch, fake rock, etc.
The base is also sometimes called the mount, but because taxidermy specimens themselves are often called mounts, we prefer to use the alternative term “base”.
Habitat base – a base with additional components resembling the habitat of the living animal, for example, grass, moss, snow, fern, etc.
Panel – a wooden backing board that attaches the animal to a wall for display, particularly for trophy/shoulder mounts.